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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pathologizing experiences : a discourse analysis of education policies of K-12 students from refugee backgrounds in Canada Onipede, Olabanji


This thesis tracks how policy stipulations and guidelines concerning refugee education evolved in the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario, and how children from a refugee background are represented in current educational policy discourses. Specifically, I undertake a critical analysis of policy discourse in other to reveal or refute instances of pathologizing practices and deficit thinking models in three refugee education policies; the ultimate goal being to make an argument for the consideration of Indigenous approaches to education as a durable solution to the protracted refugee displacement. Therefore, in this thesis, I adopt a decolonial perspective. A perspective which according to Battiste (2000; Battiste et al., 2002), signifies resistance to past and continued experience of colonization. Abdi et al., in (Abdi, 2015) agree with this approach. Although in the context of global citizenship education which is not dissimilar from refugee education, they (Abdi et al.) question the agenda setting of discourses and issues of global implication – oftentimes mostly impacting developing countries – in Western countries thereby stressing the need for decolonial perspectives. For me and in this thesis, a decolonial perspective involves challenging the analytical gaps and biases in mainstream Refugee education studies and discourses, and potentially bringing Refugee Studies into a closer discussion with, and more likely to learn from, Indigenous knowledge and politics. As an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-waututh) people, it is thus imperative to clarify the social and legal contexts of the Canadian idea of refugee protection and the implication of these on the historic and continued colonization of Indigenous lands. To do this, I employed van Leeuwen’s (1995) representation of social actors as the tool of critical analysis. Using this tool, I queried how social actors are represented in policy discourses by considering the semiosis of the linguistic and para-linguistic representation of students from refugee backgrounds vis-à-vis their lived experiences. The results reveal that there are traces of deficit thinking models across three provincial documents but for reasons of newness to the dominant Canadian culture – not the refugee experience.

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